Bill amended to give commissioner in England greater independence.

    The children’s commissioner for England is to be given greater
    independence under a government amendment to the Children Bill to
    be debated in the House of Lords this week.

    Concerns had been raised that the commissioner, who will also
    represent children elsewhere in the UK in relation to non-devolved
    issues, would have less powers and independence than the children’s
    commissioners in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

    The amendment, tabled by Sure Start minister Baroness Ashton,
    states that where the commissioner is concerned that a child’s case
    raises issues of public policy relevant to other children, he or
    she may initiate an inquiry.

    However, the commissioner must still consult the secretary of state
    beforehand and ensure the inquiry would not duplicate work carried
    out elsewhere.

    Children’s minister Margaret Hodge told the education and skills
    select committee last week that the amendment was proof the
    government was listening to concerns raised during House of Lords
    debates about whether the commissioner post was sufficiently
    independent. However, she stressed that the commissioner would
    still be prohibited from being involved in individual complaints as
    there were already ombudsmen, tribunals and courts to deal with
    these.

    Andrew Cozens, president of the Association of Directors of Social
    Services, welcomed the move but said there were still further
    discussions to be had around the commissioner role.

    Government amendments to bring youth offending teams into the heart
    of the proposed children’s services reforms were also tabled for
    debate.

    These include adding Yots to the list of “relevant partners” with
    which the proposed children’s services authorities must co-operate
    to improve the well-being of children, and making them members of
    the proposed Local Safeguarding Children’s Boards.

    Although Hodge has not hidden the government’s desire for Yots to
    be involved with children’s trusts, the original draft of the bill
    did not include them as relevant partners and the document
    published alongside the bill suggested that their inclusion in
    children’s trusts would be down to local discretion.

    The Department for Education and Skills is also believed to have
    accepted the argument for a single children’s services plan
    covering all services in an area, rather than a plan covering just
    education services.

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